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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Google Plus – Another social network you'll never fully explore or the way forward?

Now your mom’s gramps is on Google Plus as well. I can neither confirm nor deny the validity of that statement by the way, but a few of us at AdVerve HQ were sitting around discussing debt ceilings and Paulie Shore’s effect on America Cinema when Google+ came up. Yes, we cover it all here. Far from calling it the latest social networking shell game – who me? – it seems to reflect a bigger shift (read evolution) in the definition of not only how content is distributed (hardware) and licensed or controlled, but what defines content anymore. What follows is more of that roundtable fodder, somewhere late one Saturday internight. (At the risk of alienating those who haven’t yet gotten a Google+ invite yet, think of this as a broader view of social nets and their relationship with content.)

So yeah, Google keeps trying to get the social thing, that's for sure. Wave crashed. Buzz died. Now Plus? A bigger question is that it's a line extension above all else, and those are tricky. Especially when you already have a core product that’s widely popular and adopted.

Technology and hardware want a say in this discussion too. For the most part, there’s always been this church and state separation between people that make the hardware we listen/view stuff with, and the people who make that stuff. With notable exception, very few brands do both, and this is the territory I think Google finds itself in. Is that good or bad? Neither, just interesting.

That’s because the dynamic of what passes for content and who controls it now is different than it used to be. For a long time, music, movies and TV shows were the content, dictated to you by record labels, networks and movie studios.

Now, it’s also us creating the content and having a greater say as to how and when we access it. People uploading the truly mundane and the truly wtf moments of their lives fill up this great content menu, like a diner where you can get anything you want, no matter the time of day.

Look to the music biz for a second to see an example of this at work. I can think of maybe two brands that controlled both content and the hardware to distribute it on: RCA and Sony. (RCA eventually being bought by Sony, so stay on Sony here.) They not only signed/produced/licensed entertainment properties in both music & film, but also ran the tables when it came to the hardware you experienced it on (CD players, TVs, etc.).*

It’s tempting to say Apple is one of those brands too, but imma not. They’ve engineered cool and make amazing technology slash hardware of course, but have been also very careful to maintain church > state relative to content creation.

You might say, yes, but, but iTunes! Yes, iTunes** is awesome, but it’s also just a media player for licensed content, nothing more. Even though it ironically lead to a shake-up in the music industry, it’s still content created by record labels and independent artists outside iGod’s creative control.

Digressing for a second, I’ll cede this stretch o’ the imagination however: iGod’s toys have collectively altered the way we socialize because they have infiltrated every aspect of our lives. In as much as this dynamic shapes the broader point here, the social connectivity occurring when people use their iToys adds to the social as content message.

Appleness clearly extended this approach via iEverything the past decade, and the recent Ping being a lefthand turn given the dynamic we’ve posited thus farly. It’s a wannabe social music community that seemed to ignore the existing streaming music communities at large like et al. Better still to blow out iTunes to be a more robust community experience the way other services do it and Bob’s your uncle. (Or Paulie wins an Oscar, you choose.)

Social nets are not just the next evolution of what content is but how it’s distributed, and no network has it figured out yet.

Now Google doesn’t make ‘hardware’ of course, but they do make a search tool we’ve come to depend on every day. Facebook & Twitter et al. have search capabilities too, yes, but they didn't redefine the category the way Google did. Which is to say, Google can afford to take a Wave that crashes, or Buzz that dies, because it has search to fall back on if Plus tanks.

What does a Facebook really have?

At this point, friend of the weekly trainwreck that is AdVerve Howie threw Zynga into the mix, saying that Facebook could always rely on games.

Yes, unless there was no more Facebook. I’m sure Farmville and its 9+ million daily users would survive somehow on other platforms, but Facebook’s value isn’t just to them. As a major social network, its sheer mass helps launch adoption of a lot of other games and applications.

Based on AdVervian logic then, if Google owns search hardware the way Sony did, they could potentially own social content with Plus. Which raises another issue: A big reason the recording industry had trouble catching up with the shifting dynamic of how people access music (or how artists market themselves), is in no small part due to the tight grip they had over their artists for years.

Do Twitter, Facebook and Google fall into that control trap at some point and along with Google+ turn off the privacy-concerned masses as it all goes south? Unlikely, especially since the former both seem to have widespread adoption and so will Plus if it gets to scale quickly enough; it’d be hard for it to fall apart overnite.

Although, in internet dog years, overnite might just be long enough.

*You may have been watching ABC TV, but ya weren’t watching it on an ABC TV. 
**Yes, I also love asterisks in my sentences, not always at the end, but that’s for another time. Did you know iTunes turned 10 this year and that Apple is 35? The HELL?


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